Using Action Research to Improve Teaching and Learning

Educator engages in an action-research project that draws on a question from classroom data, and is viewed through current research and (re)examined through the systematic analysis of data to yield responses that improve professional practice and student learning outcomes.
Made by University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee

About this Micro-credential

Key Method

The educator selects an educational problem based on classroom data to generate a research question. The educator then engages in a literature review of the problem, and develops and implements a research design that will yield data, which, when analyzed, offers responses to the question and improves classroom practice.

Method Components

Components of Action Research to Improve Teaching and Learning

  • Understand the influence of epistemological and ideological beliefs.
  • Acknowledge the ethical rules surrounding research with human subjects.
  • Identify and justify an educational problem and research question using data generated from your classroom practice.
  • Locate and engage with the research-based literature relevant to the research question.
  • Construct an appropriate research design for the identified question.
  • Conduct a research study that involves the systematic generation and analysis of data from at least three sources.
  • Offer findings from the study with a clear evidentiary audit trail.
  • Produce a clearly written report that details the research process and shares the study’s findings and implications for classroom practice.
  • Participate in, and demonstrate a sense of the value of, a collaborative learning community.

Suggested Implementation

  1. Examine the nature of action research – educational problems/topics, researchable questions, aligned data-generating mechanisms.
  2. Explore philosophies of educational research, with a specific focus on action research.
  3. Identify an educational problem of interest.
  4. Articulate and hone a research question.
  5. Structure a literature review.
  6. Develop an appropriate teacher action research project.

Research & Resources

Supporting Research

High levels of student learning rest on a teacher’s ability to teach effectively, with full knowledge of the standards of success expected of students at each grade level [1]. Although this key relationship is codified in local, state, and national education policies, recent efforts have intensified the definition of teacher effectiveness, the tools by which it is measured, and the standards of success. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the current demand that school districts across the country identify effective teachers using student learning measures and link professional growth to increases in student achievement.

Action research is one method for marking and charting professional growth linked to student learning. In Wisconsin, action research offers a means of identifying and providing evidence of Professional Practice Goals (PPGs) and Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs), as required by your Educator Effectiveness Plan.

[1] See for example, Banks et al. (2005); L. Darling-Hammond (2010); Hirsch, Koppich, & Knapp (2001); Monk (1994); Sanders & Rivers (1996); Zumwalt & Craig (2005).

  • Anderman, L., C. Andrezejewski, and J. Allen. “How Do Teachers Support Students’ Motivation and Learning in Their Classrooms?” Teachers College Record, 113.5 (2011): 969–1003.
  • Bredo, E. (2006). “Philosophies of Educational Research.” Handbook of Complementary Methods in Education Research. Green, J., G. Camilli, and P. Elmore (Eds.). Washington, D.C.: American Educational Research Association. 3-31.
  • Fraenkel, J.  and N. Wallen.  “The Research Problem.” How to Design and Evaluate Research in Education. New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2009. 26-36.
  • Gall, M., J. Gall,  and W. Borg.. “Conducting and Writing Your Own Literature Review.” Applying Educational Research: How to Read, Do, and Use Research to Solve Problems of Practice, 6th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2009. 49-60.
  • Haller, E. J. and P.F. Kleine. “Finding and Using Research to Address Educational Problems.” Using Educational Research: a School Administrator's Guide. New York: Longman, 2001. 52-82.
  • Schreiber, J. and K. Asner-Self. “Introduction to Research Design.” Educational Research. Danvers, MA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2011: 2-9.
  • Solorzano, R. W.. “High Stakes Testing: Issues, Implications, and Remedies for English Language Learners.” Review of Educational Research 78:2 (2008): 260-329. doi:10.3102/0034654308317845


Learning Opportunities

It is suggested that the work be completed in a small learning community to accomplish and discuss the learning activities.

  • Session 1: The Nature of Action Research
  • Use a publicly-available video of classroom practice rom The Teaching Channel, TeacherTube, or another site in your teaching discipline (at least 20 minutes) to discuss teaching practice:
    • What do you notice?
    • What do you wonder?
    • What data could you collect from this teaching episode that we could analyze?
    • Given this video, what kinds of questions might you have about how your practice was unfolding
  • Examine the nature of action research – educational problems/topics, researchable questions, aligned data generating mechanisms.
    • Begin by Viewing the video “Using Technology to Understand Acceleration” or some other video posted to the Teaching Channel
    • What educational problem is depicted in in this teacher’s practice at Tech Boston Academy in Dorchester, MA?
    • What types of research questions come to mind?
    • What types of data might you collect to study this problem that might render responses to the research question(s)?
  • Session 2: Exploring Philosophies of Educational Research
  • Then read and discuss:
    • Bredo (2006)
    • Schreiber & Asner-Self (2011)
  • Questions to think about and discuss:
    • What do we mean by Epistemology and Ideology?
    • Why is it important to understand our epistemological and ideological positions in the research process?
    • What is research?
    • Give an example from a school context of something that is research and something that is NOT research.
    • What is action research? Pine (2009), citing Carr & Kemmis (1986) defines action research as the “process of concurrently inquiring about problems and taking action to solve them…  Action research is change research…  It seeks to improve practice, the understanding of practice by its practitioners, and the situations in which practice is located” (p. 30)
    • Give an example of action research from a school context.
  • Session 3: Identifying an Educational Problem and Research Question
  • Identify an educational problem of interest and hone a research question by reading and discussing:
    • Haller, & Kleine (2001, pp. 52-60)
    • Fraenkel & Wallen (2009, p. 26-36)
    • Pine (2009, p. 234-247)
  • See Gamoran & Hannigan (2000), paragraph 1.  Identify and discuss each of the following:
    • Normative Belief
    • Empirical Claim
    • Educational Problem
    • Local and Legal Knowledge
    • Ethical Knowledge and Knowledge of Consequences
    • Research Question
    • Purpose Statement
  • Identify your action research question
  • Session 4: Conducting a Review of the Literature
  • Structure a literature review by watching the video, The Literature Review, which shares details about what is involved in the literature review process.
  • Then read and discuss:
    • Gall et al. (2010, Chapter 3, p. 49-60)
    • Kennedy (2007)
    • Solorzano (2008)
    • Pine (2009, p/ 248-250)
  • Make use of library resources to conduct a review of literature which identifies what is already known about the problem (Target: 5 peer-reviewed sources)
    • Identify keywords that might be used in your review of the literature.
    • Begin reading broadly, then narrow to a similar problem and context.
    • Concentrate on primary, research-based sources (find at least 5).
    • Recognize assumptions and limitations in the study.
    • Identify the findings of each study and the implications for your work.
    • Construct an organizing matrix or concept map to focus your efforts and guide writing your review of literature.
    • The UWM Libraries site may be of assistance:
  • Session 5: Developing an Appropriate Action Research Project
  • Develop an appropriate teacher action research project by reading and discussing:
    • Anderman et al. (2011)
    • Ingersoll & Preda (2010)
    • Pine (2009, 177-315)
    • Watson (2011)
  • For your action research project, identify each:
    • Normative beliefs
    • Purpose
    • Research question
    • Data to collect
  • Data Collection Methods
    • Choosing the appropriate Methods
    • Why are you collecting the data?
    • How are the data related to the research question?
    • What will the data tell you about the educational problem?
    • What kind of data will yield the best information?
    • What data sources will you use?
    • How and when will it be collected?
    • Is generation of the data systematic?
    • How will the data be recorded and stored?
    • How will you triangulate the data? (Pine, 2009, p. 255-258)
  • Organization and Analysis of Data
    • How will the data be organized and displayed
    • What criteria will be used to categorize the data and why?
    • What processes will you use to analyze the data?
    • Are there gaps in your analysis that require additional data?
    • What themes and patterns emerge?
    • How are you making accommodations your epistemological and ideological beliefs?
    • What visual representation might represent your analysis - grid, concept map, chart, visual metaphor, graphs, diagrams?

Additional Resources

Submission Requirements

Submission Guidelines & Evaluation Criteria

To earn the micro-credential, you must receive a passing evaluation for Part 1 and a “Yes” for each artifact submitted for Part 2.

Part 1. Overview Questions

Response may be written or provided through a video.

  • Identify and name how you know what you know (your epistemological position) and the political stance you take (your ideological position)with respect to your role as a teacher.
  • Identify how your epistemological and ideological beliefs shapeeachstep of the research process:
    • the educational problem,
    • research question,
    • selection of textsand resources,
    • research design
    • analysisof the generated data, and
    • thefindings.
  • How did interrogating your epistemological and ideological beliefs impact your research?

Part 2. Work Examples/Artifacts

To earn this micro-credential, please submit the following:

  • A research prospectus that includes:
    • The circumstances of the educational problem and research question
    • A review of the literature
    • A graphic illustration of how the study will take place
    • Description of the generation and analysis of data, which was drawn from at least three sources.
  • A clearly written report that details the research process in a transparent manner, that is, open to public scrutiny.

Except where otherwise noted, this work is licensed under:
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)


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